Through 90 years of racial segregation and funding disparity, black schools in Caroline County were sacred ground in the fight for literacy, democracy, and civil rights.
Eight are still there.
Stand in the Place.
There were no public schools for enslaved or free blacks in Caroline County before the 1870s. There were few opportunities for literacy – the foundation of democracy, civil rights, and freedom both political and spiritual.
Bishop Alexander A. Wayman was born in 1821 in Tuckahoe Neck as a free person of color. In his brief autobiographical entry in Cyclopædia of African Methodism, he stressed the importance of his father’s literacy and the challenges he faced without formal schooling: “He was brought up on the farm of his father, who put him to ploughing when he was a little boy. … He was taught his letters by his father, and then he began to spell and read. It was not long before he got the idea in his head that he must write. The sand in the roads and the sides of the old frame houses were his copy books. Soon he was writing letters for his young friends to their young friends. In August 1835 he obtained hope in Christ.”
The first publicly-funded school for African-Americans in Caroline County was the Freedmen’s Bureau School. By 1875, other “colored schools” began to appear but were less than half as numerous as white schools. Nominations of teachers and trustees for black schools and funding details began to appear in public notices in the Denton Journal about county school board activities.
White schools were numbered within each election district.
Segregated black schools are usually labeled only as “Col. Sch.” in 1875 and 1897 maps of Caroline County.
Eight Black Schools Still Standing
Identification and location are based on Denton Journal articles in 1927, which tell how the Houston’s Branch School (white) near Federalsburg closed, and the building was moved for use by Bethel. It was categorized as a “colored school” in school board notices at least by 1928.
The structure was originally located next to the Mission AME Church on East Cherry Lane and is documented in MHT CAR-371: “The interior retains many features from its early days as a school building. … According to research [by CCHS], the property on which the school stood was acquired by the church in 1881. It is conceivable that the first section of the structure was built after that date. The addition could have built as late as 1910.”
“Chitman’s School” or “Chitman’s Lane School” appears in school board notices during at least 1893-1896. The modern Chipmans Road was known as “Chitman’s Lane” before 1900. The location of this abandoned schoolhouse was found through analysis of satellite imagery and search of election district boundary records.
Jonestown School does not appear on the 1875 or 1897 maps of Caroline County. Black students from this area probably attended nearby Johns Colored School before the Jonestown School was built. The location of Jonestown School on Harmony Road (MD Route 16) is verified in oral history published by Coppin AME Church (formerly Jones Chapel).
It might be too late to visit this sacred site. Aerial imagery (2017) indicates that the building described by the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT CAR-159) has been significantly modified or removed and replaced.
The school building is adjacent to Union AME Church, which has maintained and used it for church activities and storage. Union Colored School was listed in school board announcements at least between 1896 and 1928.
Visit the re-discovered sites of all 26 historic black schools.
The History and Cartography Behind the Story
We used these map sources to identify the sites of historic schools:
- 1875 Map of Caroline County by John B. Isler
- 1897 Map of Caroline County by M.L. Saulsbury
- U.S. Geological Survey Historic Maps, 1920-1944
We verified locatioins and cross-checked school names and numbers by searching the Denton Journal online.
We explored many sites using satellite imagery and high-resolution Maryland State aerial imagery.
We continue to collaborate with Ms. Jean Kelly, Caroline County Historical Society Archivist Volunteer and author of the forthcoming Historic One-Room Schools of Caroline County, to validate historic school locations and identities and gather stories about school students, teachers, and activities.
We also collaborate with the Caroline County Historical Society through its Caroline Digital History Project. CCHS maintains archives of research on many of Caroline’s historic schools. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Above: Hillsboro School re-discovered using historic maps and high-resolution aerial imagery.